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Ken Doctor: Six months after launching a local news company (in an Alden market), here’s what I’ve learned
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June 17, 2020, 1:19 p.m.
Business Models
LINK: inn.org  ➚   |   Posted by: Sarah Scire   |   June 17, 2020

News organizations that have turned to the nonprofit model have often focused on national or investigative news but this year’s INN Index, released Tuesday, shows that a growing portion of nonprofit newsrooms are dedicated to local matters.

The INN Index is the first report to come of a survey, conducted in March 2020, of more than 250 nonprofit news organizations. (A second report, focused on “diversity, equity, and inclusion in the nonprofit news world,” is due this fall.)

The number of nonprofit newsrooms is growing even as traditional newsrooms, many reliant on advertising revenue, continue to contract. More nonprofit newsrooms were launched in 2018-2019 than any year since 2008-2009. And this year’s report identified 78 dedicated to local news — 10 more than last year. Summarizing some of their findings, the report’s authors noted:

Of the local outlets, some cover a major metropolitan area, such as Voice of San Diego, and others cover smaller communities, like Foothills Forum in Rappahannock County, Virginia. Local outlets in general are working to fill community news gaps, and most cover community news rather than pure-play investigative or explanatory reporting that is a hallmark of their national and global counterparts. A few local outlets do specialize: inewsource, also in San Diego, focuses on watchdog journalism, for example, while Philadelphia Public School Notebook covers education.[…]

A growing group of local outlets serve communities of color, covering issues that sometimes don’t attract other media attention at the local level. These include Flint Beat, MLK50, Outlier Media and City Bureau.

Other takeaways? The report notes that as more community journalists launch nonprofits, they’re doing so with a small staff and “a scrappy startup mentality” focused on direct engagement with audiences and members.

Looking at the big financial picture, about half of the surveyed nonprofits generated more than $500,000 in revenue last year and half generated less — a figure that has remained steady since INN launched the index three years ago. That includes the 34 percent of outlets that generated less than $250,000 and the 15 percent that earned more than $2 million.

Foundation grants still make up the largest share of revenue — 48 percent on average — outpacing individual giving (35 percent), earned sources (11 percent), and other revenue (5 percent). The report indicated that 41 percent of nonprofits now draw on at least four revenue streams — even if ones like membership revenue remain small in comparison.

The average audience of an INN member’s newsletter is 15,000 and its average monthly web audience is “just under 600,000.” Still, the report found that more nonprofits are opting to grow their direct contact with audiences, rather than relying on established publications to distribute their reporting. “Six in 10 report that they reach their audience primarily by direct publication to their website, a figure that was just one-third three years ago.”

The index appeared in time for the Institute for Nonprofit News’ two-day conference, reconfigured for pandemic times as “INN at Home.”

Panel discussions continue Wednesday afternoon. The full schedule is available here. Missed your chance to register? INN has said it will make videos available after the conference wraps.

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